After exploring Reykjavik, The Golden Circle, Southeast Iceland, and North Iceland on our drive of Iceland’s Ring Road, Julia, Owen, and I made our way towards the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a scenic peninsula in the west of Iceland that’s often referred to as “Iceland in Miniature” because of the way it highlights so many of the country’s natural treasures in such a small area. In less than 200km of driving, you’ll see volcanoes, glaciers, caves, basalt sea stacks, geothermal pools, and more. The Snæfellsjökull volcano dominates the landscape on most of this drive. This name might sound familiar to you if you’ve read Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. In this guide I will provide a map, photographs, and a detailed trip write up for those of you planning to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
*This guide is going to follow the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in a counter clockwise direction as we were visiting at the end of our Ring Road trip. For those driving up from Reykjavik, it might make sense to do this in reverse, with an overnight in Stykkishólmur or Grundarfjörður.
- Distance: 165km
- Time: Driving time is roughly 2 hours, but with time to explore each site you will need much more. I would recommend doing this trip in 1 or 2 days. If you’re visiting from Reykjavik, I would recommend at least one night in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
- Transportation: To enjoy this guide, you will need to have access to a rental car. There are some tour buses that will drive you aroundthe Snæfellsnes Peninsula, but none that I know of will allow you to enjoy it at your own pace.
- Food and Gas: There are abundant gas stations on this stretch of the drive. Most gas stations have convenience food and some have fast food. Restaurants are in larger towns, but food is very expensive. There are a few smaller markets in the larger towns as well.
A Guide To The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
This driving guide will begin in the small town of Stykkishólmur, the shooting location of Ben Stiller’s film called The Secret life of Walter Mitty. After driving in from the Ring Road, we found this town the perfect place to stop and have lunch before continuing on a beautiful drive into the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.
From Stykkishólmur, drive west on highway 54 to the town of Grundarfjörður to see the iconic Kirkjufell Mountain. This is one of the most iconic and most photographed landscapes in all of Iceland. The 1500ft Kirkjufell Mountain has also been featured in many movies and TV shows, most recently in HBO’s Game of Thrones. The is a very crowded dirt parking lot just off of HWY 54, which grants visitors access to a very short walking trail around Kirkjufellsfoss.
The Saxholl Crater is a 358ft mound that erupted 3000-4000 years ago. There is a metal staircase that allows visitors to hike up to the top of Saxholl for some unbeatable views of Snæfellsjökull and the surrounding peninsula.
Djúpalónssandur is a beautiful black sand beach that used to be home to a thriving fishing community. Today the beach is uninhabited (except by sheep), but visitors can still enjoy the gorgeous shoreline views on a number of trails that branch out from the parking area.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a clear day when visiting Djúpalónssandur for a one of a kind view of Snæfellsjökull. You can also find 4 “lifting stones” at Djúpalónssandur. These 4 stones ascend in weight from 50lbs to 340lbs and were used to test the strength of men wanting to work on fishing boats.
The Vatnshellir Cave is an 8000 year old lava tube that goes 115ft below the earths surface. This is one of the few paid experiences on this trip with adult tickets costing 3250 ISK (~32USD). This 45 minute tour was well worth the money as this truly was a one of kind experience. Make sure to dress warm if you plan on doing this and wear a layer that blocks or repels water. The cave drips water from it’s ceiling and those water droplets are cold. You will need to book your trip with Summit Adventure Guides.
Upon checking in, your guide will give you a helmet and flashlight, then walk you through the basic procedures. From there, you will enter a silo with a door, before descending your first spiral staircase.
Once in the cave, we learned about the geology of how this lava tub formed and were directed towards the major points of interest. As we climbed down a second spiral staircase, I could really feel the temperature starting to drop. At that moment, our guide had us all turn our flashlights off. The pure pitch black darkness was not to my liking. I was very happy when he requested we all turn our lights back on.
Londrangar are a pair of basalt sea stack plugs just off the coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There are two ways to reach Londrangar. The first is actually before the Vatnshellir Cave. You’ll see a light house, and from there you can follow a hiking trail. The other option is a parking area just past the Vatnshellir Cave.
Gatklettur in Arnarstapi
After leaving Londrangar, you arrive at the beautiful town of Arnarstapi. There are a few food choices here, which makes this the perfect spot for a midday lunch. We ate at a family run food truck that was parked on the main road in town. They had some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
The main site and attraction in Arnarstapi is the arch shaped rock, Gatklettur. The viewing area for Gatklettur is reached by hiking a short trail from the main parking lot in town.
Rauðfeldsgjá is one of those places you have to see to believe. From the road, the Rauðfeldsgjá ravine appears to be nothing more than a thin crack in the cliffside. As you begin to approach the ravine, it quickly becomes clear that this thin crack holds much more than meets the eye. The ravine is also the setting for many Icelandic fantasy tales and sagas.
Make sure to take care as you hike further into the ravine, and only go if you have proper footwear and the requisite skills. I wasn’t feeling very ambitious on this day, and turned around when the flow of the water picked up. The man ahead of me pushed on into the darkness.
Búðakirkja is a small black church located in the hamlet of Búðir. The church didn’t seem like much when I first read about it, but then I saw that the only two buildings in Búðir are a black church and a black hotel. There are few structures that really capture the feeling of the surrounding lava fields. Somehow, the simple Búðakirkja was able to do that for me.
Ytri Tunga Beach
Ytri Tunga Beach is a nice place to stop for travelers visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in July or August. At this time a well known seal colony makes this beach their home. We didn’t get to see any seals on our visit, but it was still a very nice place to get out and walk around.
This was our final stop on our drive of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. From here, we packed up our car and began the long drive back towards Reykjavik.
There are a lot of great places to stop and enjoy on the drive from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to Reykjavik. If you’re looking for another waterfall that isn’t too far off of the main road Hraunfossar is one I would recommend.